Getting a Grip on IT

Gartner forum takes on spending growth, outsourcing.

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Its time to invest in IT to help your companys top-line revenue growth. But dont forget the bottom line. And dont make any mistakes, or you may find yourself outsourced.

While those were not the three announced themes of last weeks annual Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Fla., those issues were the framework within which the 6,000 attendees were trying to get a grip on where the tech industry is headed over the next year.

First, the good news. Gartner Chairman and CEO Michael Fleisher in an interview said he expects that the laser focus on bottom-line cost savings that has marked the corporate IT world over the past couple of years is in transition. "A big turn is coming," Fleisher told the symposium audience. In a subsequent interview, he elaborated, saying cost cutting will be replaced as the No. 1 priority by innovation and growth.

While thats welcome news after a couple of dark years, how to translate that new focus into IT investments is more difficult.

The place to invest, according to the Gartner analysts? Business process fusion. That buzzword means getting all your diverse business operations to run in harmony. While such synchronization has been a goal since IT first came on the scene, the need to get it right has more urgency now than in the past. Companies that have integrated operations will have a strategic advantage over those that dont, the Gartner folks contend.

And if you cant figure out how to build an integrated operation in your business, there are lots of outsourcing organizations willing to spend your companys money to do it for you. If your company balks at the cost of doing that outsourcing in the United States, there are lots of overseas alternatives that have become available.

While Gartner is certainly not omniscient in understanding the future of the IT industry, the symposium has become a touchstone for gauging the direction of the corporate IT community. The gathering still draws the leaders of the major vendors for one-on-one (generally softball) on-stage interviews. In an era where big trade shows are marching toward irrelevancy, events such as the Gartner forum are useful for highlighting the business strategies and technologies that analysts contend should be on your corporate radar for next year.

The four technologies to follow next year, as highlighted by Gartner, are broadband wireless; constantly connected, low-power mobile devices; reliable and cheap computing power for creating the real-time enterprise; and service-oriented IT architectures.

After sitting through the keynotes (really interviews) of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Intel CEO Craig Barrett, Id say the rollouts of those technologies will take place on vendors time schedules instead of in response to user requirements.

Intel and Microsoft have become such overpowering presences in the marketplace that they can time product introductions according to their financial needs rather than market requirements. If Linux in the software business and AMD in the chip business did not exist, Id argue that Microsoft and Intel would have invented them to provide some counterpoint to their dominance.

Perhaps the greatest insight from this years event came during a discussion with Fleisher on outsourcing. The true cost and value of outsourcing, Fleisher contended, is not known for 18 to 24 months after a contract has been sealed.

Those companies that used outsourcing as a strategic part of their IT planning should reap many of the expected benefits, while those that jumped on outsourcing as a quick financial fix will find themselves behind their competition in the race for business process integration—and probably saving far less money than they thought they would. With many of those outsourcing contracts still in their early stages, it wont be until next years Gartner conference that the full results of the recent rush to outsource will start to unfold on the business, social and political stages. That alone should make next years symposium worth the trip.

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